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Scandals and Sociopaths: The Psychology of American Politics

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Another scandal, another reason for mudslinging. Another tragedy, another opportunity for sociopaths.

Since the rampage of an insane 22-year-old in Tucson, I've been seeing report after report about whose fault it was. Most of the fingers are pointing to Sarah Palin. Others point to the Tea Party, Brahman-caste Republicans, Democratic health care, and The Highly Absurd.

Every one of the major political groups used the tragedy as political leverage, spending millions of dollars in mud-slinging or high-minded posturing. I finally have refused to watch any more news on the matter and came to the sad conclusion that the people with their hands on the American steering column (corporate and political) are either wholly without sense, suffer from a profound lack of morals, or think that our voting habits are fully driven by their finger-pointing. Probably all of the above.

In any case, this event drove home the crisis to me -- once again: America is being waylaid by sociopaths and narcissists -- not just on the interpersonal level, but on the one that affects us all, the political one.

Wake Up America by public domain

It reminded of a time last year when a friend sent me a link to a New York Times article entitled, "Recorded Sex Comments Cost Calif. Lawmaker His Job" (AP, 9/10/09). 

Perhaps you remember it...

In the piece we discovered that Mike Duvall was an ordinary, nearly inconspicuous and unproductive member of the California Assembly, that he was an Orange County Republican, that he'd once received a 100 percent rating from The Capitol Resources Institute (a conservative advocacy group) for his voting record on pro-family issues. We also were informed that as of the AP release, he was a hit on YouTube for yet another sex scandal from an avowed right-wing family man.

The tale unfolds: Duvall was on break from a committee meeting at the Capitol when he took the opportunity to brag to fellow Assemblyman Jeff Miller about a couple of affairs he was having. Neither noticed that an open microphone was on the table near them which recorded every word they said.

KCAL-TV got a hold of it and aired his lurid comments. Once it got on YouTube, it was all over for Mr. Duvall who was caught saying, "I'm getting into spanking her." On a roll, he couldn't stop and decided to tell his friend about another affair he was having simultaneously.

The media went absolutely wild.

So, once again, instead of concentrating our legislative minds or our public concerns on issues of water conservation, raging unemployment, border problems, increasing violence, overcrowding prisons or renewable energy sources, or even acknowledging the more insidious fact that one of the affairs was with a female energy lobbyist, we're all focused on a fool pulling down his pants.

Three things concern me about this pattern in the American psyche:

1.     Our attention is far too easily guided to where the media wants it to go. We are fixated by the foolish and salacious, a sort of internet rubbernecking or political Three-Card Monte. Instead of addressing the fact that he was having a sexual affair with a lobbyist for Sempra Energy (the operator of San Diego Gas and Electric) while he was Vice Chairman of the Assembly Utilities Committee, we spent months listening to tapes of him talking about "eye-patch underwear."

I am not immune to this. I remember walking down Sixth Avenue in NY when I was barely out of college. A guy came up to me blathering about this or that. I was totally confused by it (and as a result, hooked into his babbling). As a result of my fixation, I had no idea that his friend had just picked my wallet out of my pocketbook until my money was gone and they were running down the steps to the subway, laughing. It happened because I was paying attention to the wrong thing. It may not have been my fault. But it was my responsibility. It really angered me, but that's how it works.

2.    Our leaders -- from politicians to corporate decision-makers -- are more narcissistic and sociopathic than ever. They have become utterly shameless about it. Even though BP and the government swore up and down that the oil spill would not affect what actually reached our plates, it has. The food coming out of the Gulf is toxic. 

And we don't seem to mind much because we don't indict them. The opposite! We reward them with reality TV shows that boast more than decent ratings; and, finally...

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Judith Acosta is a licensed psychotherapist, author, and speaker. She is also a classical homeopath based in New Mexico. She is the author of The Next Osama (2010), co-author of The Worst is Over (2002), the newly released Verbal First Aid (more...)
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Judith, your words could not be more profound: "Am... by Fannie LeFlore on Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011 at 6:08:23 PM
Dear Fannie,Thank you for your thoughtful comment.... by Judith Acosta on Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011 at 6:16:31 PM
Narcissism is endemic in our culture and seems to ... by Donald on Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011 at 7:13:51 PM
This is what I've called it: viral fear.My answer ... by Judith Acosta on Wednesday, Feb 2, 2011 at 7:25:15 PM
votes, w/ proprietary software we don't understand... by Jill Herendeen on Thursday, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:19:26 AM
You're so right about that.... by Judith Acosta on Thursday, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:59:58 AM
The subject of distractions comes to mind, keeping... by steve karr on Thursday, Feb 3, 2011 at 11:51:49 AM
Wonderful comment, Steve! Land of the boobs, indee... by Judith Acosta on Thursday, Feb 3, 2011 at 12:01:43 PM